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Safar Khan Gallery: 'Chaotic Order' by Ahmed Kassim
From the outside of the large-windowed gallery, the exhibition looked very promising, drawing us in with expansive pieces filled with pleasing hues and decorative patterns. The premise of his exhibition is to reflect on Egypt’s current political situation; using symbols, icons and associative elements, the artist aims to convey his personal feelings, while allowing enough room for the viewer to interpret it in their own way, as well.
The first thing that stood out in regards to the work was the technique, or lack thereof. This is specifically in reference to first two pieces hung closest to the door. Using an alien-meets-robot figure in the foreground, the Oriental motif background ended up standing out more due to its messiness rather than its expertise. The contrast between the traditional and futuristic is intriguing, but the clumsy implementation certainly left us a bit underwhelmed.
Kassim’s larger pieces are significantly better. He uses owls in one of them to represent all sorts of figures and political notions. An owl depicts the army, another is religious persecution, while a large one – somewhat camouflaged in the background – is meant to be the ‘third hand’ of the revolution and carries a gun pointed at the owl of deceased sheikh, Emad Effat.
Another large piece shows two of the alien-meets-robot figures sitting on a couch playing videogames with titles such as 'democracy game', 'betrayal game' and 'retreat game'. Kassim’s artistic ability shines most in this painting; the geometric shapes in the foreground, the detailing of the furniture and his overall technique are at their most refined.
Our favourite piece of all of them, however, was hanging on the upper floor and was, on the contrary, minimalistic in comparison. Using a pale grey with slight shading to bring out the shapes of buildings, there is a silhouette of a man on the bottom right corner who seems to be peeing. The yellow stream is also seen coming down from the rooftops of two facing buildings, offering the only hint of colour in the whole piece. This symbolism we appreciated most because of its simplicity, conciseness and humour.
Kassim’s approach to the current situation sees him build layers that give the viewer endless associations, interpretations and stories to run with. However, some pieces also felt slightly amateurish and in need of some cleaner lines and heightened technique.
While the late Inji Efflatoun has become known for her colourful paintings, Safar Khan Gallery’s current exhibition shines a light on Efflatoun’s ink-on-paper collection, ‘Freedom After Prison’. Utilising the chosen materials through different techniques, Efflatoun created a diverse collection of sketches, which depicts life in the Egyptian countryside.
In some of the paintings, Efflatoun used staccato pen strokes to form the scene. One of them is ‘Rest Time’, in which the artist drew the masses of resting workers, adding a touch of detail here and there to break the detachment of the outlines.
On the other hand, other paintings boast a flowing outline, especially the ones including palm trees and greenery. In one of the best pieces in the exhibition, Efflatoun not only studies the form of palm leaves, but she also adds a creative touch to this simple form, filling the thin outline of the element with waves of ink, using the wide tip of a black marker.
Merging between the previous two techniques, Efflatoun drew a number of scenes that portray the dwellings of the peasants. For example, in one of the paintings, the artist used a continuous outline to draw the houses, while pen strokes were used to form the shape of other details, like palm trees or straw ceilings. Where necessary, Efflatoun used the wide tip of the marker for creating shades.
Though the different shades of ink are dominant in this exhibition, the gallery shows four paintings in colour, three of which are by Efflatoun herself and the fourth is by the exhibition’s guest of honour, the late Taheya Halim.
While two of Efflatoun’s were placed in near the front desk, making it difficult for the viewer to have a close look at them under the stares of the curators, the third, which portrays the artist while working in a simple set of brush strokes, is placed amidst the other ink paintings. However, being the guest of honour, Halim’s Painting, which depicts a Nubian couple seated on a bench, is centred on the wall facing the entrance.
And whether in colours, or merely painting using ink, ‘Freedom After Prison’ is sheer proof of the artist’s brilliant ability to create animated paintings using different mediums.